Wednesday, November 15, 2017

DEATHDREAM (1974) (Blue Underground Blu-ray Review)

2-Disc Limited Collector's Edition Blu-ray/DVD

Label: Blue Underground 
Duration: 88 Minutes 
Rating: R
Region Code: Region-FREE
Video: 1080P HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono with Optional English SDH, French, Spanish Subtitles
Director: Bob Clark 
Cast: John Marley, Lynn Carlin, Richard Backus, Anya Ormsby,  Henderson Forsythe

Deathdream (1974) (aka Dead of Night) is directed by the late Bob Clark (Porky's, A Christmas Story), written Alan Ormsby (Deranged), and was part of a trio of horror films Clark directed, this coming right in between Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1972) and the seminal-slasher Black Christmas (1974). In this chilly anti-war horror film we have the Brooks family gathered around the dinner table, we have father Charles (John Marley, The Godfather), mother Christine (Lynn Carlin, Faces), and teen daughter Cathy (Anya Ormsby, Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things), when there's an ominous knock at the door, which turns out to be an Army recruiter delivering the worse news imaginable, that their son Andy (Richard Backus) has died serving his country in Vietnam. 

Everyone is devastated but the mother Lynn refuses to accept this horrible truth, sitting alone in a room with a candle in the dark whispering that her son cannot be dead. Later that night a noise in the house awakens the family, and they are surprised to find Andy has come home, his mother's wishes seem to have come true. It seems that the military had been mistaken, but the Andy before them turns out not to be the same young man they remember, in what turns out to be a waking nightmare. 

The film is an obvious allegory for PTSD and the war being fought at home during the Vietnam era, Clark and Ormsby crafted a haunting examination of how war changes a person and how sometimes families struggle with the return of loved one, who are changed in sometimes dramatic ways. Andy is very subdued and spends hours alone in his room in a rocking chair, his emotions are erratic, scaring the neighborhood kids when he strangles the family dog, and the family physician Doctor Allman (Henderson Forsythe) begins to suspect Andy in the murder of a truck driver who was found dead, his throat ripped open and his body drained of blood. There's a scene of Andy visiting the doctor, allowing him to examine him before he kills him, using a syringe to drain the doc's blood, afterward he ties off his arm and injects the blood into his veins like an addict shooting heroin, which was another affliction facing returning vet's in the 70's looking to numb themselves to the horrors they had experienced. 

The returning vet experience is exaggerated here to a degree as Andy turns out to be a ghoul of sorts, requiring human blood to live and apparently stave off the rot of being dead, he seems sort of like a zombie with a blood lust, and when he doesn't get his transfusion blood terrible things happen, like when he goes on a double-date to the local drive-in, a strange brown liquid begins to leak from his head, his eyes and skin begin to change, his appetite for blood no longer deniable he kills his ex-girlfriend in the backseat of the car and then goes after his own sister, killing her boyfriend before driving off, running down another victim with the car in the process. As his father and sister fully come to realize Andy is a killer Mom clings to her son with desperation, leading up to a chilly and poignant final scene

Deathdream has a creepy vibe that permeates from the opening scene to the final, it's not the most lively horror film but it's one that gets under the skin, and was one of the first to address the issue of Vietnam, though it's doesn't ever mention the war by name, it is steeped in it nonetheless. The special effects in the film were done by script-writer by Alan Ormsby who was assisted by a young Tom Savini (The Burning), this being Savini's first job on a film. As the film wears on Andy becomes a bit more zombie-looking, his skin becoming flaky and mottled, his eyes strangely discolored, and towards the end you can see bit of his skull exposed through his thinning skin, it's low-budget but very well-done, it definitely look more like Ormsby's work on Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1972) than it does any of Savini's later work.

The movie has an eerie score from Carl Zittrer (Black Christmas)that enhances the atmosphere, a piano/string score used sparsely and effectively, some of the odd strained-piano strings sounds got under my skin, deepening the dread, a ploy he uses on Black Christmas as well.   

Audio/Video: Deathdream (1974) arrives on Blu-ray/DVD Combo from Blue Underground, upgrading their previous DVD release with a brand new 2K restoration sourced from the original 35mm negative, presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, and baring the Dead of Night alternate title. I believe the film was shot on 16mm and blown-up to 35mm for theatrical, so the source-inherent grain is still an issue here, particularly during the darker/night scenes, but it is better resolved. Colors are improved, the green-hue from the DVD is gone, flesh tones look more natural, and the black levels are deeper and more consistent. Audio on the main feature comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono track which sounds good within the limitations of the modest production, but dialogue and effects are well-balanced, the atmospheric and minimal score from  Carl Zittrer (Black Christmas) comes through strong, optional English subtitles are provided. 

Onto the extras Blue Underground carry-over nearly all the extras from their 2004 DVD, this includes the two audio commentaries, one with Co-Producer/Director Bob Clark and  a second with Writer/Make-Up Artist Alan Ormsby, both moderated by David Gregory. We also get the vintage interviews with Tom Savini and actor Richard Backus, the alternate opening title sequence with the "Deathdream" title, a theatrical trailer. Not included is the 3-minute extended ending sequence, and with good reason, the main feature is the even longer  version with the omitted dialogue from Andy's mom saying, "Andy's home, sometimes they never come home", which was not included on the extended ending extra on the DVD. 

Onto the new extras we get an a half hour interview with star Anya Liffey and Writer/Make-Up Artist Alan Ormsby, who speak about Ormsby's early student films, meeting Bob Clark and teaming-up with him on Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, including shooting it in sweltering Miami, and recruiting drunk/stoner-hippies from the park to be zombies. Ormsby also goes into writing Deathdream, wanting to make a anti-war horror film, his various inspirations, and casting the film - with the nugget that Christopher Walken auditioned for the role of Andy - but he was too weird! They also discuss working with the cast of the film, remembering John Marley as a consummate professional, a few quirks actress about Lynn Carlin, and working with Tom Savini. There's also discussion of how the movie was received, and next going on to co-direct Deranged (1974). It ends with Ormsby going into creating the Hugo - The Man with the Thousand Faces doll which he pitched to Kenner toys and was produced for a short time, and his Movie Monsters book published by Scholastic.   

There's also a new interview with composer Carl Zittrer who interestingly discusses how the film failed to find an audience because of the various title changes, he of course also discusses his score, the placement of music in the film and even playing some selections from the score on piano during the interview. Production Manager John ‘Bud’ Cardos, a director in his own right, having directed Kingdom of the Spiders (1977) and The Dark (1979), also shows up for a brief interview discussing his time on the film, interacting with Bob Clark and John Marley, and creating some of the special effects work during the early 'Nam scene and the car chase at the end. We also get 12-minutes of screen test footage showing actor Gary Swanson (Vice Squad) in the role of Andy, which would have been a very different film, and a ten-min black and white student film of Ormsby, the tale of a black man accused of rape, which was very affecting. We also get an expanded image gallery with posters from various territories under numerous titles and the US press book. There's also a trio of ester eggs to be found, we get Alan Ormsby showing some prosthetic appliances used in the films, an Orgy of the Living Dead TV Spot, and a TV spot for the Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces doll. 

This 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD release comes housed in a clear Criterion-style Scanavo case, with a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring the Deathdream poster on the a-side and the alternate Dead of Night poster on the b-side. The disc themselves feature the same two artwork options, but both have the Deathdream logo. Of note the Deathream poster art make the film look like a 70's Italian cop-thriller mashed-up with a black-glove giallo, which speaks to the strange marketing campaign for the film under various titles, none of which seemed to land with theater goers at the time. We also get a 20-page booklet with an insightful new essay by critic Travis Crawford, also containing cast ad crew information, and chapter selection. 

Special Features:  
- Audio Commentary with Co-Producer/Director Bob Clark
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Make-Up Artist (Uncredited) Alan Ormsby
- NEW! A Recollection With Star Anya Liffey and Writer/Make-Up Artist Alan Ormsby (29 min) HD 
- NEW! Notes For A Homecoming – Interview with Composer Carl Zittrer (19 min) HD 
- NEW! Flying Down To Brooksville – Interview with Production Manager John ‘Bud’ Cardos (5 min) 
- Tom Savini: The Early Years (10 min) 
- Deathdreaming – Interview with Star Richard Backus (12 min) 
- Alternate Opening Titles (3 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (4 min) 

- NEW! Screen Test with original Andy, Gary Swanson (13 min) 
- NEW! Expanded Still Galleries
- NEW! Alan Ormsby Student Film (10 min) 

- EASTER EGG: Orgy of the Living Dead TV Spot (1 min) HD
- EASTER EGG: Alan Ormsby Make-Up Outtake (1 min) 
- EASTER EGG: Hugo TV Spot (2 min) HD  
- Collectible Booklet with new essay by critic Travis Crawford (First Pressing Only!)
- WORLD PREMIERE of brand new 2K restoration from the 35mm negative in its most complete version ever!

This was one of my most anticipated releases of the year and it did not disappoint, the movie gets better with each watch, a haunting anti-war film that leaves quite an impression, and one that could have been very exploitative, but it's handled with a deft touch, all things considered. This 2-disc collector's edition from Blue Underground offers the most complete/longest version on home video, and the the new 2K restoration looks fantastic, plus we get some great extras, highly recommended, this surpassed by expectations!

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